Having signed off back in January, planning to sit back for the year and relax and hear of others’ travel stories in 2020, well me anyway, Anne having gone straight into a work opportunity for three months, why are we on a road trip in March?
The answer is three fold: first, Anne finished her contact early with the project being put on hold. Second, at the same time, friends wanted their 4×4 vehicle moved to Tasmania from Brisbane. We seized the opportunity to help our friends and to travel through central New South Wales (NSW), a region we have not explored in 32 years in Australia. Thirdly, it also gives us a chance to spend money in rural areas and while we are not travelling through any towns affected by the recent NSW and Victorian bushfires, we think that any spending on accommodation, fuel and food must be a benefit these communities often affected by droughts and floods. We also heard of a campaign to get people to take an empty esky or cooler box when visiting fire ravaged towns to buy goods there and help the local economies, what a good idea.
While COVID-19 is sadly playing havoc with most of our friends’ 2020 travel plans, we thought that the risk of travelling by car with a single domestic flight back was manageable and we could monitor the risk as we travelled. So far so good.
We are off, a fully loaded 4×4 with no space to spare as our friends have packed the vehicle to the max. Anne loves driving a 4×4 from all her years traveling in the bush across the Northern Territory and Western Australia. It is a good feeling, with the reassuring thump of the diesel engine in our ears, to be out on the road. Anne has planned a route that will take in a number of points of interest and, hopefully for her, some camping. Not so sure about that myself.
Our route takes us west from Brisbane and over the dividing range on the new Toowoomba bypass that opened during our last absence from Australia. Soon we are out in the country and come across recent fire damage and regrowth. Anne refers to them as “fuzzy trees” due to the new growth on the branches and trunks. With all the regrowth, the fire damaged tree shapes are different to the undamaged ones, they could almost be different species. We do find the flies seemed to have returned after the fires very successfully and swarm on us at every photo stop. We drive away with a cloud of flies in the 4×4 cab each time.
Green is definitely the colour, the roadside has tall grass waving in the breeze, the country is transformed from the drought ravaged brown, we have been used to seeing on TV since we returned, to a lush verdant landscape. The rain and green also mean that kangaroos are no longer gathering at the roadside looking for the last remnants of moisture, which makes driving in the late afternoon a little more comfortable. We also see no kangaroo carcasses on the roadside until we reach Victoria, courtesy of the rain. I was surprised how small the Murray river seemed when we crossed at Tooleybuc and the size of the multiple pipes in the river used for irrigation extraction. The Murray Darling basin water issues seem a little clearer to me now.
Goondiwindi, Narrabri, Dubbo, Narrandera, places that until now have just been names on a map or news article. We find that each has its own character and feel. There are people working to restore old buildings, add new attractions and provide services for visitors such as ourselves. As an example in Narrandera we stayed at the Historic Star Lodge, where we were hosted by Angel, who in addition to running the hotel, is in the process of renovating and expanding the hotel. She was superb and our experience was matched by others when you read their booking.com comments.
In Hay we met Craig, a grass watering local who had not taken out his Harley Davidson for some time. After talking for a while, the next day Craig was on his motorcycle and out on the road. It is great to connect with people as we travel and get a better insight into the local life.
The Siding Spring Observatory (SSO) is situated outside the Warrumbungle National Park near Coonabarabran in New South Wales, great names are they not? The location was chosen for its lack of ambient light. Situated on top of a mountain, a number of optical/infrared telescopes, Australian, Japanese and Korean, scan the southern hemisphere skies adding to our astronomical knowledge. When we visited we saw no one apart from kangaroos, the 30 or so staff are probably all asleep since they have to work at night.
Having visited the home of the visible spectrum observatories, we more forward to discover what we can learn about the non-visible spectrum which is so much broader. North of Parkes is home of Australia’s largest radio telescope, some 64 meters in diameter which became operational in 1961. Given its southern hemisphere location, it was used in conjunction with NASA for the Apollo Moon missions and various NASA and ESA deep space missions. In over 50 years, upgrades have made it 10,000 times more sensitive than when it was originally constructed. You must turn off mobile phones to avoid potential interference, no mobile coverage here please
We have always said that we believe that truck drivers are the some of the best and most helpful on the road. Somewhere south of Forbes, an oncoming truck suddenly started flashing his lights at us, he had seen as I had, a car, two behind him, making an impossible overtaking manoeuvre, as I plan to detour into the field on my left, the errant car driver realises his mistake, pulls back in and normal service is resumed. Thank you truck driver.
We spend a couple of days in Western Victoria’s wheat belt, following the Silo trail which has amazing artwork painted on old silos. Anne has written a separate blog as part of her ‘Street Art Series’.
While in Melbourne we visited the Hotel Esplanade in St Kilda, known locally as “The Espy”, our Australian penchant for shortage words at play again. Originally opening in 1878, it was recently refurbished in 2018. The top floor hosts the cocktail bar “Ghost of Alfred Felton”. The bar reflects one of the hotel’s most famous guest, Alfred Felton who took up residence in 1891 and took over many rooms, knocking out walls, redecorating and changing lights and never checked out until his death in 1904. A business man who left half his wealth to women and children charities over 100 years ago. The other half of his bequest went to the National Gallery of Victoria which in 109 years has allowed the gallery to purchase some 15,000 works estimated today to be worth more than 2 billion Australian dollars.
A weekend in Melbourne catching up with friends and then onto the “Spirit of Tasmania II” ferry for a very smooth sailing to Tasmania.